Tag Archives: Machiavelli

Oz: Mythic Power in the Power of Mythic Deception

Ok, my not so amazing prediction: “Oz, the Great and Powerful,” will not be nominated for any academy awards next year.  The new Oz comes out just over 11 and under 12 months after The Hunger Games (premiered March 23 2012) which is its ideological opposite: Hunger Games is a movie of the people against the government crowds are shown, but closeups of faces in the crowd are not cartoon snapshots of stereotypes—in the new Oz, all the common people are cartoon snapshots). 

Oz is a movie which not only glorifies but presumes that monarchical government and autocracy, a government of “Archons” is both natural and essential.  In Oz: the Great and Powerful, we see only the cartoonish choice between good dictators/kings and bad dictators/kings (reminiscent of the 1939 Glinda’s question to Dorothy: “are you a good witch or a bad witch?”)

“Oz, the Great and Powerful,” may neither be certainly a great or powerful cinematic event, but it is not a bad movie.  It is more than worth seeing and thinking about.  As a statement of political power mythology, it is closest (but superior both as a movie and as a dramatic contribution to mythic evolution) to “Batman, Dark Knight Rises”.   

As a Disney Production and product of the Magic Kingdom, Oz finds pro-monarchist, elitist ideological common ground with The Lion King (June 15, 1994).  But whereas world of Simba and Mufassa was elegantly pure Dumézilian structuralist mythology in support of the absolute monarchy of the lions, Oz merely celebrates Bush-Cheney-Obama low-brow dictatorship by deceit.  

Fair to say I enjoyed Oz: the Great and Powerful more than I thought I would given the almost universally disappointed/disappointing reviews.  It is true that the three witches are pretty much flat, two dimensional, and on the dull side even if they are more conventionally attractive than even Glinda was in the 1939 Classic and each is more beautiful possessing more sex appeal than Elphaba in “Wicked.”  But Elphaba is a MUCH more interesting character, developed with oh so much more depth and dimensions.

“Wicked” has ten to a hundred times more lasting mythological power as a post-modern statement of relativism than anything in “Oz, the Great and Powerful.”   But on the other hand, James Franco’s Oz is more realistic as a portrayal of conservative, monarchical values than Batman or Bruce Wayne was in the last installment of the Dark Knight Trilogy.  Oscar Diggs is not exactly Scar from the Lion King either.  He is really closest to any of the past four U.S. Presidents Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama.  His personality comes nowhere close to as engaging as Ronald Reagan or as articulate and humble as Carter.

There are really only three ways to portray political power in a story:  (1) as natural and necessary—so that the struggle is between good and bad “rulers”, (2) unnatural and not only unnecessary but oppressive and therefore evil—so that the struggle is between the people and the power structure, and (3) natural or at least “a given” —“always with us” (kind of like “the poor”) but essentially trivial and irrelevant.

Movies of the third type used to be fairly common in the American cinematic repertoire, but they have all but vanished in modern times.  The third type of movie was the “heroes ride off into the sunset” variety of “Western” or “rugged individualist” myth embodied and exemplified seriously as in (1) Casablanca, (2) High Noon, and (3)  The African Queen or comically as in (4) Cat Ballou.  

Recent years have seen Hunger Games and Serenity in the “Government is the Enemy” category pitted against Batman: Dark Knight and now Oz: the Great and Powerful.  Oz and Batman presume the paradoxical necessity of autocratic rule in society, with “Good” Autocrats guaranteeing “Freedom & Justice” while “Bad” Autocrats are just like the Good Autocrats only “Bad.”   Television series such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,”, “Angel”, and “Dexter” tend to vacillate between “Government as the Enemy” and “Government is always there but Irrelevant.”  

In “Oz: the Great and Powerful”, we see a very specific “real world” dramatic retelling of the story of the disembodied leader becoming more powerful after death, as an Icon and a Myth, than he ever could have been as an earthly individual.  The Character of the Wizard Oscar Diggs is not even “intriguingly” Banal and Ordinary.  He is really kind of uninspiringly banal and ordinary—much like the real life Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.   Like George W. Bush, Diggs is a master of illusion and deceit, and that is his primary qualification as a leader.  Like Clinton, Oscar Diggs’ “Oz” is attractive to the ladies and that makes the movie at least somewhat pleasant to watch.  But as with last year’s somewhat deadly dud “Dark Shadows” with Johnny Depp, stories involving beautiful but jealous witches are really so awfully unoriginal as to be boring—and I’ve not only watched too many I’ve lived the story in real life just several too many times….ahem, but I digress…

Unlike the stories of both Dorothy Gale (or her as yet cinematically almost unknown friend and colleague in adventure in most of L. Frank Baum’s later stories, “Ozma”) and Elphaba, there is hardly a hint of feminism or “girl power” in any of the three witches.  (No “Buffy” or “Willow” or even “Anya” on the scenes of this Oz).   Even Glinda (Michelle Williams) is at best a kind of exquisitely delicate, weak, very pretty and attractive but only marginally talented “second rate” witch outshown and outperformed by Oz’ mechanical illusions which ultimately succeed in vanquishing and exiling the evil sisters to the East and West of the Emerald City.  [It made sense to see Oz on St. Patrick’s Day weekend since Oz, like Ireland and Ancient Maya Yucatán, is a magic land divided into four color-coded cardinal direction (NSEW) quarters of the world with Green at the Center—the Emerald City = the Yaxché at the Center of the Maya universe and Tara at the cosmic and ritual center of the Emerald Isle itself].  

[The beautiful witch who turns green and ugly (the future W.W. West, Mila Kunis) reminds me ever so much of my own former wife Elena K….. beautiful and ambitious in the beginning, looked really good in red, but ultimately deadly and green   for all the wrong reasons (Elphaba was green for “good” reasons).]

What are interesting from the standpoint of mythic deconstruction in “Oz, the Great and Powerful” are Oz’ assertions that he is more powerful as a disembodied image than as a man, that illusion is more powerful than reality.  This IS a valid post-modern deconstruction of the American Presidency, and of Institutional “Corporate” government and economy in general.

Does the generalization apply to the life of Julius Caesar, or merely to the post-mortem TITLE of Caesar, which endured for a thousand years as the Supreme Emblem of “Imperial” Authority in the non-Latin monarchs (Kaisers & Tsars) of Germany, Austria, and Russia?  

A certain kind of post-modern deconstructionalist will tell you that Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar both planned their deaths for the purpose of Apotheosis and Institutionalization of Power.  This is exactly what Oscar Diggs does in “Oz: the Great and Powerful.”  

Power by deception and illusion is the political science of Machiavelli’s Il Principe and Cardinal Richelieu’s dictum “to dissemble is to rule” as well as the apparent embodiment of the theory underlying American foreign policy probably since the sinking of the Battleship Maine. Power by deception and illusion is a very anti-democratic theory of the origin and nature of power, totally opposed to the Katniss Everdeen or Buffy Summers schools of “Divine Kingship through Combat and Sacrifice.”  Katniss and Buffy were both pitted against dictatorships built on bloody lies and concealment of the truth, as were the “Wild West” type heroes on the Crew of “Serenity” (paired with Buffy and Angel, also by Joss Whedon).  As I have been writing for more than ten years, Buffy Summers’ death in Season Five of her series was a classic “Golden Bough” moment, though after Buffy’s resurrection in Season Six she was not quite “divine” after all.  Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark in Hunger Games together played the game of the Rex Nemorensis in Diana’s Wood at Aricia very well as a team (a wonderful team unprecedented in history or myth).

Essentially, the lesson we should learn from “Oz: the Great and Powerful” is that all institutional (aka “Corporate” = permanent but impersonal, perpetual) government originates in and works best when founded on lies. In this political theory, lies and falsehood and illusion are sources of strength, and the secrets must be kept by those in the “inner circle” of government, even by China Dolls….(a reference to the “Dainty China Doll” in L. Frank Baum’s original book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” which did not make it into the 1939 Judy Garland “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” musical movie).

Batman: Dark Knight surely reflects the same ideology, but never states it quite so bluntly.   So Oz now joins with certain deconstructionist interpretations of the lives of Julius Caesar, Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy…. in articulation the rule by deception explanation of the origin and nature of political power.  I can only pray for the ultimate triumph of the poor man’s “Divine Kingship” model of weak government, an essentially anarchical theory of government as a model of or metaphor for nature red in tooth and claw…. wherein the King (or Queen) is normally only a symbol of nature rather than an actual wielder of power.  

In which connexion, long live Buffy Summer & Katniss Everdeen.

April 13: The Hunger Games, Judicial Immunity, and the Dawn of a New Dark Age

Life in its petty pace from day-to-day (and related notes on why I’m not on the California ballot)

Is it a coincidence that the California Secretary of State refused to approve me for a ballot place as candidate for the United States Senate Seat currently held by Diane Feinstein within 3 days of Facebook Canceling my profile because I was “promoting or organizing violence?”  Since I have never (to the best of my knowledge) advocated (much less “organized”) violence except to praise the spirit of continuing revolution, it was a great shock to me, but that was how my Spring season began.  (My long-time personal assistant and “Man Friday” Peyton assures me that I’ve never organized anything in my life, violent, peaceful, or indifferent)  

The snafu that led to my ballot position not being approved may yet prove the subject of a lawsuit, so I shan’t go into details except to say: California’s “Top Two, Voter Nominated” primary system only makes sense if non-professional political operatives (i.e. “voters”) are actually permitted to nominate candidates, and this requires a certain exercise of common sense on the part of the Registrar of Voters in each county as well as the Secretary of State.  Obviously, my supporters are largely battered down middle class working people who no longer trust the government to begin with.  They are anything BUT government insiders.  If only political insiders can maneuver the system then it is NOT a true “voter nominated” system.

I would guess that, in fact, the “top two” system was designed to protect the best funded insider candidates from even any hypothetical threat from outsiders like me, and that is, of course, a way of stifling change and preventing any real “dynamic” in the democratic process.  “Top two” primaries arguably serve a system well-designed to engender a “thousand year reich”, ironic indeed since one would think that individuals of Barbara Boxer’s, Diane Feinstein’s and Henry Waxman’s background and ethnic origins would not WANT a thousand year reich….but perhaps the quibble was with the identity of the master race destined to rule for a millennium, rather than whether a unitary elite should have such power…. forever.

Remembering V-for-Vendetta and Serenity from 2005-2006

The only redeeming feature of Spring 2012 so far is a new movie, which equals and possibly surpasses in political insight my (obvious, previous) all time favorite: V-for-Vendetta.   V-for-Vendetta was a futuristic science fiction (literally based on cartoon characters based on a four centuries old English school boys’  rhyme about a highly manipulated historical even in 1605) and as such it served as an allegory about 9-11 and the “W” Bush (43rd Presidential) administration in the USA.   The lead characters, the Guy Fawkes’ masked “V” (Hugo Weaving) and Evey Hammond” (Nathalie Portman), were an amazing couple NOT in love (at least not romantically, and not in any way at all, at least not until Evey’s post-mortem eulogy) were, as cartoon characters are, difficult to relate to any ordinary people one might encounter in life.  

The brilliance of V-for-Vendetta was the incisive treatment of 9-11 and all that had happened in and around that date under the Bush 43 administration: barely a stone was left unturned to expose the rotten mould and horrible colony of insect life underneath it.  The sad part about V-for-Vendetta is that it’s message apparently resonated with so few people.  

As a movie, it should have had a national impact on political thought, revealing the ruling government as an oligarchy of hypocrisy, lies and fear through government media manipulation concealing a simple policy of orchestrated terrorism attributed to foreigners, specifically Islamic fundamentalists, in the justification of never-ending war, even though it was in fact the brainchild policy of the government itself.  

Above all, V-for-Vendetta reminded us of Adolf Hitler’s brilliant but evil insight, that the great mass of people will sooner believe a great lie than a small one.  Another movie concerning a “big lie” by the government was Joss Whedon’s beautiful epic Serenity.  The tale of the outer-space “wild-west racially non-discriminatory confederates” was, in so many ways, merely the extra galactic, historically unspecific, parallel to V.  Unlike V, Serenity did not focus on any specific modern event like 9-11, but  very generally shared a focus on governmental experiments in biotechnology and psychological manipulation as the root of transformational events in human history.  Of course, Serenity very unusually and distinctively echoed and memorialized the injustice of the Confederate defeat at the hands of a technologically superior Centralized government (“the Federation”).

Die Hungerspiele von Panem/Die Tribute von Panem (Totliche Spiele) (You’re a Damn Confederate, aren’t you?)

The new movie which in my mind at least now threaten’s V-for-Vendetta’s supremacy as the greatest political movie of our time premiered on Friday March 23, and is of course, the Hunger Games. (I confess I have not read Suzanne Collins’ books—everything I say here is based on the movie and the movie alone, which I found absolutely overwhelming—but I didn’t read Gone with the Wind until I was 26, by which time I had seen the movie at leas 30 times in my life).  The Hunger Games lacks any of the cartoonish elements of V-for-Vendetta and Serenity (as much as I like and appreciate the genuinely artistic value of those elements).  

My suspicions of Collins’ perspectives as those of a not-so-closet Confederate sympathizer gain more than moderate a bolster from the knowledge that, although born in Connecticut, the author was the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and spent her High School (i.e. critical formative identity) years in the heart of Dixie, specifically in Alabama in the 1970s…. where she attended  high school at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, where she was a Theater Arts major.  Oh yea, FWIW, the Alabama School of Fine Arts was founded by George Corley Wallace’s Wife, Governor Lurleen Wallace, in 1968, shortly before she tragically died of Cancer at age 41, and George Corley Wallace was Governor 1971-1979, all through Suzanne’s High School years.

Now, one way of looking at it is that, perhaps, the Hunger Games takes place after the collapse of the United States and Civil War to which the government news commentators in V-for-Vendetta made such frequent allusion.  According to those reports, the USA “the country that had everything” had become a “cesspool” of continental proportions due to its “Godlessness.”  While that’s a legitimate perspective, I think that the overwhelming weight of evidence and frame of reference in the Hunger Games is to the War of Southern Independence/War Between the States/War of 1861-1973, realizing that those dates are not the ones usually used in High School American History texts.

In fact, The Hunger Games in some of its visuals at least, almost approximates a kind of a futuristic Nanook of the North staged realism, focusing on the lives of the common people of the post-War (I mean Post-War Between the States) south, especially of the Appalachian regions of North Carolina (where The Hunger Games was filmed “on site”).  As in Whedon’s Serenity, the strong suggestion of Confederate nostalgia and sympathy is, to my mind at least, absolutely undeniable.  

It is too much to ask that we NOT see parallels to the War of 1861-65 and its aftermath when the “Treaty of the Treason” and “War” movie both recite that 13 Districts of “Panem” (“Panem” to my eyes sounds like a Hellenized partial translation of “E Pluribus Unum“, cf. Pangea) rose up against the Paternalistic “Welfare” Government that “fed them, protected them, cared for them”, that the District 12 setting is so obviously the REAL Southern landscape of coal-mining Appalachia, and that the poor whites of District 12 have a closely parallel lives and culture to at least the partially segregated black-African dominated population of District 11.

Without wanting totally to “spoil” the Hunger Games for anyone who hasn’t seen it, I will just summarize my interpretation of its wild popularity this way (aside from the obvious: a very human love story about two extraordinarily mature for their age teenagers who were unlikely ever to have fallen in love, but end up being “perfect” for each other, played by a genuinely handsome “All American Boy” lead and beautiful soft-spoken and emotional “Tomboy-type-Girl” who is so hot she literally sets her red dress on fire, combined with lots of action): Even though most Americans are not in fact hungry for food (that is the “Nano of the North” element reality of the starving South of 1865-1950, seeing oppressed, hard-working, underdogs whose primary source of protein was from very small game—squirrels, because the deer were almost all hunted out) people are clearly hungry for genuine justice and a fair playing field. (For one alternative, but to my mind, quite beautifully written and  excellent review of the Hunger Games, I recommend “The Feminist Spectator” by Princeton University’s Jill Dolan, published on April 4: http://www.feministspectator.blogspot.com/.  I somehow doubt that Professor Dolan would agree with me on the strong Confederate Sympathies implicit in The Hunger Games but there was once a President of Princeton University, the only Ph.D. ever to become President of the USA in fact, who thought that Birth of a Nation was the greatest historical drama in history, and portrayed the reality of his native south perfectly—unfortunately, that was also the Democratic President who signed into law (1) the 16th Amendment and Federal Income Tax, (2) the Federal Reserve Banking System, and the (3) the 17th Amendment, namely Woodrow Wilson….)

Hunger for Justice and Freedom

Like the residents of the 13 oppressed Districts of Panem, despite all government hypocrisy and lies to the contrary Americans both you and old today know that the odds are NOT in their favor and that, in fact, the odds are fairly hopelessly stacked against them.  And yet the system has this tiny escape valve: that about 1 in every 24 people can make it rich.  That is, one-in-twenty four of the oppressed can make it rich IF they’re willing to “play the government’s game” and basically, kill a lot of their fellow citizens in the process.  As of this April 13, 2012, I have seen the Hunger Games 5 times, and each time I’ve liked it more, seen more details.  I will have to read the books before completely integrating it into my thought processes about modern pop-cultural reaction to the impending doom that this American Life obviously faces, but I submit to you: the American people (on the whole, and certainly as a population compared to many parts of the world at the present and throughout history) may not be starving or hungry for food, but they hunger for justice and an even playing field, and they do not “relish” the very real prospect of a thousand years of subservience to “the government that feeds, them clothes them, takes care of them.”

Of Time and Space and Presidential Succession in the Leap Years…..

The Hunger Games takes place on the 74th anniversary of the institution of these gladiatorial combats.  The significance of that 74 years has bothered me.  On the one hand, it COULD refer to 1860 (the election of Abraham Lincoln and the secession of “District 1, South Carolina…) + 74 = 1934, the year in which Roosevelt’s New Deal started WPA reorganization of the South in earnest, or it could refer to the original publication date of the book, 2008, as the 74th year since 1934—or it could refer to both.  The coincidence, again, is hard to avoid.  1934 was the first full year of (de facto) Socialist Dictatorship in the United States (Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in 1932, took office in March 1933, and many of his first year legislative proposals only took effect in 1934).  2008, 74 years later, Barack Hussein Obama, the first Communist President of the United States, was elected and took office, “perfecting” or at least completing the process begun by Abraham Lincoln in 1860, a mere 12 years after the publication of the Communist Manifesto in London in 1848.  (See Al Benson, Jr., & Walter Donald Kennedy’s 2011: Lincoln’s Marxists, Pelican Publishing, Gretna Louisiana, a fine historical summary of the connexion between Communism and Central government predominance in the USA, a historical summary which is easy to read although not nearly well-enough documented with footnotes and source citations as professional historians would like and scholars generally would appreciate).

Another aspect of the Hunger Games is the correlation between the oppressive Central government of Panem and Edward Gibbons’ the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, on the one hand, and a heartless, Machiavellian version of the Social Darwinism of the late 19th century on the other.  The capital of Panem is degenerate in a distinctly Roman Imperial Silver Age manner (Rome’s “Silver Age” normally said to run from the death of Augustus in A.D. 14 through the death of Marcus Aurelius in A.D. 180).  Nero and even Caracalla (“Post-Silver Age” Emperor from A.S. 198-217) would have felt quite at home in the Capitol of Panem, I think.  But the “Emperor” himself is a distinctly late 19th century Anglo-American type (President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland), who has a Romano-“Robber-Baron’s” scorn for the “underdog” without any explanation or moral justification, just the political desire to keep himself and his world on top and everyone else underneath.  President Snow appears to share none of the cultural degeneracy of the Capital, but has a great deal in common with aristocratic Victorian gardeners of the late 19th century.  

Snow’s name is English, as are most of the names of the characters known from District 12.  Most of the residents of the Capitol City, however, and apparently of Districts 1-2, have Roman names: “Cato”, “Caesar”, “Seneca”, “Octavia”, and “Claudius” just to name a few…..  

So the Hunger Games follows the pattern of Serenity and V-for-Vendetta in another distinctly modern way (although all these movies do it well, and for good purposes and effect, quite a few others, such as Captain America and [the movie that I dread most]—Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer, do it very poorly and for improper purposes): historical metaphors and mythic realities are conflated, merged, and reorganized.

NOX OCCIDIT (“NIGHT FALLS”)

In any event, there is a Leonard Cohen song that summarizes why the Hunger Games, as a historical-mythological and futuristic allegory of injustice and game rigging, is so wildly popular, and that song is:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that it’s me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when you’ve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it’s moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
Everybody knows what you’ve been through 
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary 
To the beach of Malibu 
Everybody knows it’s coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

The saddest difference between V-for-Vendetta and Serenity on the one hand and the Hunger Games on the other is the complete transparency of the society of Panem: “Everybody knows that the system’s rotten…. everybody knows that the war is over, everybody knows that the good guys lost.”  Everybody knows that the government that feeds the people, clothes them, and cares for them does not like underdogs.  President Snow is a late 19th Century-styled  avatar of George H.W. Bush (41st), Bill Clinton, George W. Bush (43rd), & Barack Hussein Obama all rolled into one.  

At least in V-for-Vendetta and Serenity, there still existed the apparent hope that revelation of truth could lead to revolution and change. 

But now President Obama signs the National Defense Authorization Act allowing indefinite detention of American Citizens on American soil without charges or trial, and he does so unblinkingly and unabashedly.  President Obama jingoistically adopts the dead Trayvon Martin as his own son in an effort to exacerbate racial tensions and divisions to his advantage in an election year at the same time that he tells the AIPAC Conference that he supports Israel’s quest to maintain ethnic homogeneity and integrity.  

There are no secrets in modern America, our Joseph Stalin, aka President Obama, has no need of Hitlerian, Rooseveltian, or “W” Bushian type “Big Lie”—he tells us all that he wants the power to take away all our rights, but asks us to trust him that he won’t really do it—except in the case of real underdogs, like, I guess, for example, George Zimmerman?  And speaking of that, how many of you imagine that George Zimmerman, whether he be called White, Hispanic, or Jewish, or all of the above, will get a fair trial?

So now to celebrate April 13 even further: WHERE WILL WE BE 74 years from now, or from 2008, say in 2082?  I predict we may well be in a New Dark Age, and not just because I’m not on the California Ballot for this year (although that is symptomatic).  

So far as “fixed games” go, what could be worse than a criminal prosecution set by agreement between Judges and prosecutors arranged through bribes?  Is that the American Way?  We wouldn’t like to think so.  In 1980, the year I graduated from the College of Arts & Sciences at Tulane and started graduate school at Harvard, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California said that “fixing” cases was not a normal judicial function and that no judicial immunity could attach to such activities: Rankin v Howard 633 F2d 844 _9th Circuit December 5 1980.  A short six years later, that same Ninth Circuit reversed itself and found judicial immunity from civil suit for such activities: Ashelman v Pope 793 F2d 1072 *EN BANC* 9th Circuit 1986

But the outrageous history of the suppression of judicial immunity just goes on and on through the subsequent citation history of Ashelman v. Pope to show how official immunity for prosecutors and the executive branch has almost merged with Judicial immunity to the point that the government is just one big immune mass of oppression against the people, and the modern government of E Pluribus Unum, aka “Panem” can prosecute you, jail you, and torture you, with complete immunity.